Millions of victims across occupied Europe used music as a means through which to respond to the Nazi onslaught. In this unit we explore responses from ghettos and camps through which we can learn a great deal about daily life.

Music in camps was a means of survival for the prisoners and an instrument of terror used by the SS. Music oscillated between its use as legitimate survival strategy and necessary diversion of the victims and its misappropriation and misuse by the perpetrators.

For Lesson 1 refer to the articles on Łódź and Khayim Rumkowski and Lesson 2 refer to the articles on Auschwitz, Belsen and the song Bergen-Belsen Moje.

Lesson 1 - Lodz Ghetto

Lesson 1 - Łódź Ghetto

Aims:

  • Increase understanding of ghetto life by exploring lyrics from popular ghetto songs (with particular reference to Łódź)
  • Consider why cultural life was so rich in the Łódź ghetto.

Resources:


ACTIVITY 1 - Łódź in context

Locate Łódź on the map together with facts about Łódź before WW2.


ACTIVITY 2 - Song and worksheet

Hand out Khayim Rumkowski 

Lesson 2 - Responses

Lesson 2 - Responses in concentration camps

Aims:

  • Learn about Concentration Camps – what they were, where they were, etc.
  • Differentiate between concentration camps and death camps
  • Learn that music existed in camps and played an important role

Resources:


ACTIVITY 1 - Establishing Prior Knowledge

Ask students what they already know about concentration camps.

Record the ideas that are mentioned, but do not correct at this stage. This list will be referred to at the end of the lesson, and refined as understanding/knowledge have changed/increased.

Prompt questions if necessary:

  • Name of concentration camp(s)?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Who was imprisoned?
  • By whom?
  • What happened in concentration camps?

At this point make sure (through prompting if necessary) that you have at least the following words written up:
Auschwitz, gas chambers, Jews, Nazis, Germany, WWII

Tell students that we will be talking about and hearing music from concentration camps.
Acknowledge that it may be a surprise to learn that there was music in camps based on our existing impressions – why?


ACTIVITY 2 - Case study

Read Anita Lasker-Wallfisch's story.

What range of emotions do you think Anita might have had to struggle with on being granted a place in the orchestra?  Discuss.
Responses may include: relief, guilt at being selected over others, pleased to be able to play beloved instrument again, not feeling like she could play beautiful music in such a place, feeling like a collaborator when forced to play to welcome new inmates to camp (part of deception), feeling of hatred when having to play for Nazis, cello feels like a friend, etc.


ACTIVITY 3 - Songs

In groups, listen to different concentration camp songs and refer to lyrics.

Each group should locate camp on map.  Ask each group to create a tableau (still picture or statue) to describe the piece.  They should do this by reading the lyrics (to give actual images to create) and by listening to the piece (to help them feel the mood of the picture).  Share the tableaux with the rest of the class.

Ask class members in audience to ‘read’ the tableaux as they are presented (people in the tableau should remain silent and frozen in position).  Class are not trying to guess the right answer, they are interpreting, offering their own opinion or reading of the scene.

What range of feelings are portrayed across all the groups?
Solidarity, protest, comradeship, thoughts of home, comfort, strength, despair, pain, work, suffering…
Bring out in discussion the difference between forced vs voluntary singing

Which different ‘characters’ or roles are shown in the tableaux across all the groups?
Prisoners, guards, absent loved ones, friends, Jews, non-Jews…

This exercise can be developed by asking each ‘actor’ in the scene to say a line (or make a sound) that their ‘character’ might be thinking or feeling (not saying) at that moment.  You can build their phrases up to create an atmosphere – ask students to consider building a rhythm or tone between themselves which enhances the scene – eg: slow wailing, robust chanting, etc.

A further or alternative activity would be for your class to create ‘soundscapes’ for their pictures to add mood and storyline.  This can be done using voice (sounds rather than words), breath, percussive sounds – experiment with found objects in the classroom – you don’t necessarily need musical instruments at all.

It can also be interesting to compare the images that the class creates with images of famous monuments or memorials (see separate resource, memorials).


ACTIVITY 4 - Concluding discussion

Gather class back together to look again at the list you created at the start of the lesson.

Ask students if they want to add to or refine what they said before.

Add to list, which now should include:
Death camps, political prisoners, other groups, e.g. Roma, across occupied Europe, from 1933, forced labour, etc.


ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES

Find out more from articles on the death camps at Auschwitz  and Belsen and from the song Bergen-Belsen Moje

Further Reading: Lasker-Wallfisch, A., 1996. Inherit the Truth 1939-1945, London: Giles de la Mare

 

Curriculum Links

Lesson 1 - Łódź ghetto

History
Key concept: chronological understanding
Key processes: using evidence, communicating about the past

Citizenship
Key concepts: democracy and justice, rights and responsibilities
Key Processes: critical thinking and enquiry

Music
Key concept: cultural understanding
Key process: reviewing and evaluating
Range and content: global dimension, music from different times and cultures, popular traditions, consideration of contextual influences, role of music and musicians in society

Lesson 2 - Responses in concentration camps

History
Key concept: chronological understanding
Key processes: using evidence, communicating about the past

Citizenship
Key concepts: democracy and justice, rights and responsibilities
Key processes: critical thinking and enquiry

Music
Key concept: cultural understanding
Key process: reviewing and evaluating
Range and content: global dimension, music from different times and cultures, popular traditions, consideration of contextual influences, role of music and musicians in society